My father’s aunt has always been a great inspiration to me. She worked as a dentist, which was quite unusual in her time. She never married. And even in her eighties, when I was born, she was a real lady, always impeccably dressed in beautiful robes. On special occasions, she would wear an extravagant fur stole that made her look absolutely stunning in the eyes of a little girl. Her apartment in central Helsinki was not very practical by modern standards – lots of small rooms behind a spacious entrance hall. But to us kids, it was the most magical place in the world – the library in particular. Here, she would serve hot chocolate, and we would lean back and let ourselves be absorbed by the gigantic armchairs upholstered with a regal red velvet, facing tall shelves filled with thousands of books with stories of love and war, hope and despair, of the great wide world, and all the adventures we could only dream of.
When I moved into a new apartment not so long ago, the memories of my father’s aunt were suddenly very present in my mind, even though she had passed away many years ago. I was recently divorced and had fallen in love again, and this was the place for us to merge our lives and make a home for our new family. There are so many things to plan and worry about when renovating and decorating a new place, but by far the most important to me was to get … a library! Apart from being the logical choice for someone like myself, who works with books every day, I think that, subconsciously, I wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the library that I knew as a child.
It made me feel safe and gave me an immediate sense of belonging – the cosiness of it, the endless rows of books neatly organized from floor to ceiling, the antique lamps, heavily draped curtains and comfortable chairs, perfect for hours of rest and absorption. That feeling of homeliness and well-being was something I wanted to pass on to the people I love the most. I think that as humans we carry around memories that are far stronger than we imagine, and I felt eager to create a space where my new-found love and I could gather the kids and just be together: to talk, read, play games – and drink lots of hot chocolate.
We are still finishing the library, and I am sure it will be great once we are done. I have always been crazy about antiques, I am a keen collector and, just like my father’s aunt, I would much rather decorate my home with stuff that has been passed down by generations than new things just in from a factory in some country far away. Finding antiques and vintage items takes a while, and decorating a room is a process that I enjoy and do not take lightly. But one object will surely find its way into our family sanctuary: a beautiful old wooden clock that belonged to my father’s aunt. Inside she has left a small piece of paper, yellowed over the years, with her graceful handwriting describing the history of the clock – how it travelled from Russia, through Finland and ended up with our family. Life would be so empty without such stories. And my new library will be the perfect place to tell them.
Interviewed by Marie Monrad Graunbøl for Voices 01